Our (Painfully) Featureless Sun

The Sun, being boring on Jan. 13th 2009, a whole year after Solar Cycle 24 was supposed to start (solar astrophotography by ©Stephen Sykes)
The Sun, being boring on Jan. 13th 2009, a whole year after Solar Cycle 24 was supposed to start (solar astrophotography by ©Stephen Sykes)

This morning I realised it’s been a whole year since we saw the first reversed polarity sunspot pair on the surface of the Sun. A year ago, Solar Cycle 23 was running out of steam and Cycle 24 was about to take over. Solar physicists the world over were making predictions, some thought Cycle 24 was going to be a “doozy”, others were a little more conservative, saying it might just be an “average” cycle. However, 12 months on, it would appear Cycle 24 is off to a very lazy start. Once again, we have a “blank” Sun, a perfect sphere, looking like a marble, or as my wife observed: a jawbreaker (or as us Brits like to expressively call them, gobstoppers).

The stunning image above was shot by skilled astrophotographer Stephen Sykes, over at AstroSlacker.com, demonstrating what superb views of the Sun can be captured by amateur astronomers. When I (eventually) get my telescope, and/or a new camera, the Sun will be my first astronomical object to observe, but I doubt I’ll get as good a view as this.

So, another day, another featureless Sun. That’s not to say it’s been a totally boring year; we’ve had flares from “left over” active regions from Cycle 23 and we’ve had a bit of action from Cycle 24 (the most recent set of spots–Sunspot 1010–have just rotated out of view), and I’m pretty sure this time next year we’ll be inundated with sunspots… fingers crossed (I can’t wait to see some coronal loop arcades again). For now, good night our lazy Sun, I look forward to seeing more action in the coming months…

The Moon and a Jet: Astrophotography by Stephen Sykes

Photography by Steven Sykes
Photography by Stephen Sykes

If you’ve listened to my Astroengine Live show, you may have noticed that I am a (very) frustrated practical astronomer. I have yet to save up for my first telescope (thanks Mike Simonsen for making me even more eager to hand over my credit card!), and I still want to upgrade my camera equipment so I can begin taking some shots of the night sky.

So when I see images like the one above, I move one step closer to making that big purchase (upgrading to a digital SLR, followed closely by my dream telescope). This shot was taken by Stephen Sykes in his back yard in Alabama. Intending to capture the Moon alone, his luck was in and a commercial jet passed right in front. Luck is a huge part of astronomy, and when a skilled astrophotographer is there to capture the moment, stunning shots like these are possible.

Be sure to check out his site, StephenSykes.us, for all the images in this set. He’s even put together a superb animation of the series of shots he was able to capture during the jet transit.